SANTA MONICA—The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is hiring volunteers to help meet needs as a result of the pandemic. Volunteers have played an important role in the functioning of the farmers markets said Jodie Low, the Sunday Main Street Family Market Manager to Canyon News via phone.
“We’ve always had a volunteer program. It’s definitely changed due to the Coronavirus,” said Low.
The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market started in 1981 and is 40 years old. “We are a department of the city and run four weekly Farmers Markets,” said Low.
Pre-pandemic, SMFM focused primarily on local farmers and served 125 families.
The SMFM hosts many events to attract customers, to entertain and spread awareness about the market among the community.
Talking about the various activities at the market Low said, “We used to have cooking demonstrations, children’s field trips, entertainment activities, in addition to Band and dance performances before the pandemic.”
Families and children enjoyed bounce houses and inflatable slides too. “We are unable to have any of those community events now,” said Low.
Low noted they have to follow Los Angeles County Health Department regulations and limit the number of customers in the market at any given time. This includes measures like social distancing between the farmers booths, organizing lines formation for customers to enter, and make sure they are six feet apart, according to Low.
“Previously it was an unrestricted walk in,” Low said; there were no lines or restrictions, with people moving about as they pleased.
She added the Farmers Market attracts a huge crowd; managing the crowd with the pandemic becomes challenging without the help of volunteers.
“And so you might imagine [the chaos, SMFM] being an outdoor event [creates],” Low said. “Unlike a grocery store, we don’t have walls, we don’t have a door.”
Barricades have been constructed using tapes and bike racks to organize the movement of customers and create a single specific point of entry. This drives the need for additional volunteers to act as greeters and help customers maneuver through the market.
“They are engaging customers as they walk into the market.” Talking about the role of volunteers Low said, “They inform customers about the expected etiquette in the market.”
“It’s a big cultural shift for everyone not to touch produce or wash their hands before touching produce and stay six feet apart from each other,” said Low. “It’s a really big shift for the entire world and certainly the farmers market community specifically.”
Welcoming new volunteers, Low noted, is a simple process of filling out the applications. They are trained about their role as a guide and host, in addition to coping with the challenges of working outdoors.
“As you know, we’ve had smoke and heat and hopefully we’ll have the rain soon,” said Low.
“We are so grateful for the volunteer response,” she said. “We’ve just had tremendous community support” and new volunteers which is “certainly dozens of new volunteers.”
“And without them, we would not be able to run this program and maintain the required health permits and keep everybody from spreading coronavirus, it’s imperative,” said Low.
“The requirement by state code and law is that the farmers that participants have to grow the products that they sell. And the program is regulated by the California and County Department of Agriculture,” Low said.
The Farmer’s Markets continue to be an important essential service for the community by providing fresh food.
According to Low, it is really imperative that farmers markets stay open so people from various economic strata can have access to food.